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Three missing Ohio women found after 10 years being held hostage by kidnappers [UPDATES]

Woman at Lovers Bridge Tanjung Sepat cropped

The Kidnappings

On May 6, 2013, three women were found alive in a two-story home at 2207 Seymore Ave. in a Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood.  The women had mysteriously vanished nearly a decade earlier.  Amanda Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland on April 21, 2003. The last communication from here was a phone call to her sister to say she was getting a ride home from work, which was only a 10 minute walk from her home.  It was the eve of her 17th birthday.  Witnesses said they saw Amanda enter a white, four-door sedan with three men inside.  A few days later, family members received a call from a male who tells the family that she will be released in a few days.

Georgina “Gina” DeJesus disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14 and was last seen walking home from Wilbur Wright Middle School.  Her disappearance was quickly thought to be related to the Amanda Berry disappearance – both vanished within the same five-block area, were the same height, and had no history of running away from home.  A week after DeJesus disappeared, 200 people turned out to distribute fliers door to door, covering a 50-block area around her home and a half-mile radius around her school.  Police notified the public that they were looking for a Hispanic man driving a light-colored, older model car.

Michelle Knight vanished in 2002, at age 21.  She was last seen at a cousin’s house and was reported missing the following day.  Some family members believed she may have ran away on her own because she was angry that she had lost custody of her young son.  As a result, her disappearance was not widely publicized.

All three were kidnapped on the same street, just three miles from where they were being held captive.  A fourth victim, a six-year old girl, was also found and later discovered to be the child of Amanda Berry, born in children’s plastic swimming pool, three years after Amanda was kidnapped.  The women were tied up and chained inside the home (ropes and chains were found hanging from the ceilings of the home) where they were repeatedly physically and sexually abused during their decade of imprisonment.

A neighbor steps in to help

Their captor left the home to visit a nearby McDonald’s restaurant.  Amanda Berry noticed that he had forgotten to lock the “big inside door” on his way out and took advantage of his mistake.  Neighbor Charles Ramsey was sitting down to a fast food meal that night when he heard screaming outside.  He stepped outside to investigate.

“I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.  I go on the porch and she says, ‘help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.’ “

Ramsey crossed the street to the home where he found a panicked woman sticking her hand through a small gap in the metal storm door.  Ramsey  kicked in the bottom of the door, freeing the young woman and a small child, who quickly pleaded with him to call the police.  Ramsey took the woman and child back across the street to his home where he listened to the 911 call the woman made.

“Help me, I am Amanda Berry.  I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.  I need them now before he gets back!”

The woman explained to the 911 operator that two other women were still being held captive inside the home.  Police swiftly moved in on the house where the three women said they had been held.  According to the police report:

“As we neared the top of the steps, Officer Espada hollered out, ‘Cleveland Police,’ at which time … Knight ran and threw herself into (Officer) Espada’s arms. We then asked if there was anyone else upstairs with her, when (DeJesus) came out of the bedroom.  Espada then put Knight down and DeJesus jumped into the officer’s arms.”

Lead by a vehicle description given by the kidnapped women, they later arrested a 52-year-old man at a local McDonalds, identified as Ariel Castro, a former Cleveland Metropolitan School District school bus driver. Two others, identified as his brothers Pedro J. Castro and Onil Castro, ages 54 and 50 respectively, were also arrested.  The FBI immediately moved in to collect evidence.

The women and child were taken to MetroHealth Medical Center, where they were reported as suffering from severe dehydration and slightly malnourished.  It was learned that at least one of the women had been pregnant several times but her captors first starved and then beat her in the stomach until the baby was aborted (miscarried).

Ariel Castro

The disappearances of Amanda and Gina captured the attention of the entire city for the past decade, as their relatives had continually held vigils and kept the story alive in the local press.  Neighbors were shocked to hear that three women had been held in captivity in the home for nearly a decade.  One neighbor commented:

“We see this dude every day. I’ve been here a year. I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and listen to salsa music.  We never saw the girls there, and we were always outside.  We only saw the guy.”

One neighbor however, said his sister got a bad vibe from the house and asked him not to let the children play unsupervised nearby. He said he heard yelling in the house in November 2011 and called police to investigate, but they left after no one answered the door.  Another incident occurred in 2004 when welfare officials first visited the house after Castro reportedly left a child on a school bus. The ensuing investigation found no criminal intent on Castro’s part. Castro worked as a school bus driver until he was fired last November for what school officials called “a lack of judgment.”

A further call came from some women who lived in a nearby apartment building. The women – who have not been identified – claimed they saw three young girls crawling on all fours with dog leashes around their necks, being led by thre
e men. They apparently waited for two hours, but police did not respond to their calls.

Remarkably, Castro’s son, also named Ariel who now goes by ‘Anthony’, penned an article for the Cleveland Plain Press about the disappearance of Miss DeJesus back in 2004 when he was a journalism student at Bowling Green State University (see complete article text below).  In the process of his reporting, the son appears to have interviewed the missing girl’s mother.

Castro had moved into the area in 1992. Neighbors considered him a loner who kept shades drawn over his windows and would only leave the home at night.  Castro covered his backyard with tarpaulin so that no one could see inside and other reports indicated that he obsessively padlocked the doors leading to his basement, attic and garage, and never let anyone, even his family, inside.

One neighbor noted how he had seen Castro at the park a couple of days earlier with a little girl and asked who it was.  He said it was his girlfriend’s daughter.

Close neighbors, who failed to notice anything amiss at the home during the 9 years that the girls were held captive, were bewildered and in many cases, suffered great guilt.  One neighbor noted:

“I’m not the only one on the block that feels ashamed to know that we didn’t notice anything. I mean, I feel like my head’s low, I work at a school, I work with kids, my head’s – I have a heavy heart right now.”

The Arrest

After Berry explained the situation to police, they entered the home where they found the remaining two captives.  From the victims, the obtained a description of Castro’s vehicle and quickly issued an APB (All-Points Bulletin).  Officers spotted the vehicle in the area and followed it into a McDonald’s parking lot (on Clark Avenue) where they arrested Ariel and Orin Castro.  Pedro Castro was arrested shortly thereafter at his home.  He was passed out in the backyard of the home wearing a pair of shorts but no shirt.

The Investigation

A search of the home revealed a few interesting finds.  A copy of a letter written by Ariel Castro in 2004 gave insight into the mind of a demented criminal.  He was perfectly aware that his actions were wrong although he attempted to push the blame on the victims themselves.

“I am a sexual predator. I need help.” he wrote. “They are here against their will because they made a mistake of getting in a car with a total stranger.”

In a chilling prelude to his last capture, he wrote:

“I don’t know why I kept looking for another. I already had 2 in my possession.”

After questioning the kidnapped women, details of how they were kidnapped were revealed.

Knight said she was in the area of West 106th Street and Lorain Avenue when Castro offered her a ride home in August 2002, the report said. Instead, Castro took her to his house where he chained her up in the basement, the report said.

Berry was walking home in April, 2003 from Burger King on West 110th Street and Lorain Avenue when Castro offered her a ride home, the report said. Castro told her that his son also worked at Burger King.

DeJesus told police that Castro initially approached her with Castro’s daughter, the report said. The two girls went to school together. Castro later returned without his daughter and told DeJesus that he would give her a ride to his house so they could hang out, the report said.  Instead, like the other two girls, Castro drove DeJesus to his house.

Ariel Castro was charged with four counts of kidnaping and three counts of rape.

The Transcripts

The transcript of Amanda Berry 911 call to police is below.  Immediately there was controversy around the 911 dispatcher’s handling of the phone call.

Caller: Help me. I’m Amanda Berry.

Dispatcher: You need police, fire, ambulance?

Caller: I need police.

Dispatcher: OK, and what’s going on there?

Caller: I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.

Dispatcher: OK, and what’s your address?

Caller: 2207 Seymour Avenue.

Dispatcher: 2207 Seymour. Looks like you’re calling me from 2210.

Caller: Huh?

Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210.

Caller: I can’t hear you.

Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210 Seymour.

Caller: I’m across the street; I’m using the phone.

Dispatcher: OK, stay there with those neighbors. Talk to police when they get there.

Caller: (Crying)

Dispatcher: OK, talk to police when they get there.

Caller: OK. Hello?

Dispatcher: OK, talk to the police when they get there.

Caller: OK (unintelligible).

Dispatcher: We’re going to send them as soon as we get a car open.

Caller: No, I need them now before he gets back.

Dispatcher: All right; we’re sending them, OK?

Caller: OK, I mean, like …

Dispatcher: Who’s the guy you’re trying — who’s the guy who went out?

Caller: Um, his name is Ariel Castro.

Dispatcher: OK. How old is he?

Caller: He’s like 52.

Dispatcher: And, uh –

Caller: I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.

Dispatcher: I got, I got that, dear. (Unintelligible) And, you say, what was his name again?

Caller: Uh, Ariel Castro.

Dispatcher: And is he white, black or Hispanic?

Caller: Uh, Hispanic.

Dispatcher: What’s he wearing?

Caller (agitated): I don’t know, ’cause he’s not here right now. That’s why I ran away.

Dispatcher: When he left, what was he wearing?

Caller: Who knows (unintelligible).

Dispatcher: The police are on their way; talk to them when they get there.

Caller: Huh? I – OK.

Dispatcher: I told you they’re on their way; talk to them when they get there, OK.

Caller: All right, OK. Bye.

While Amanda Berry was on the phone with 911, her neighbor (who helped rescue her) was also talking to 911 on the phone.  Here is the transcript of the Charles Ramsey 911 call:

Cleveland 911. Police, ambulance, or fire

Charles Ramsey: Yeah, hey bro. I’m at 2207 Seymore, West 25th. Hey, check this out. I just came from McDonald’s, right. I’m on my porch eatin’ my lil’ food, right. This broad is trying to break out the fucking house next door to me. So, it’s a bunch of people street right now and shit. So we like, what’s wrong, what’s the problem? She like, this motherfucker done kidnapped me and my daughter and we been in this bitch. She said her name was Linda Berry or some shit. I don’t know who the fuck that is. I just moved over here, bruh. I don’t … that, you know what I mean.

Dispatcher: Sir, sir, sir, sir, sir. Sir, you have to calm down and slow down. Is she still in the street?

Charles Ramsey: Uh, uh, Seymore Ave.

Dispatcher: And miss, is she still in the street or where did she go?

Charles Ramsey: Yeah, I’m lookin’ at her! She right now, she callin’ y’all. She on another phone.

Dispatcher: Is she black,
white, or hispanic?

Charles Ramsey: Uh, she white, but the baby look hispanic.

Dispatcher: Okay, what is she wearing?

Charles Ramsey: Uh, white tanktop, light blue, uh, sweatpants. Like a wife beater.

Dispatcher: Do you know the address next door, that she said she was in?

Charles Ramsey: Yeah, 2207, I’m lookin’ at it!

Dispatcher: Okay, I thought that was your address. So that, that house…

Charles Ramsey: No, no. I’m smarter than that, bruh. I’m telling you where the crime was, not my house.

Dispatcher: Okay look, sir, we can’t talk at the same time. Do you wanna leave your name and number?

Charles Ramsey: Charles Ramsey, R-A-M-S-E-Y.

Dispatcher: What’s the phone number?

Charles Ramsey: [NOT SHOWN]

Dispatcher: Are the people she said that did this, are they still in the house?

Charles Ramsey: I don’t have a fuckin’ clue, bruh. I’m just standin’ out here with McDonald’s.

Dispatcher: Can you ask her if she needs an ambulance?

Charles Ramsey: You need an ambulance, or what? She need everything. She’s, she’s in a panic, bruh. I bet she been kidnapped, so put yourself in her shoes.

Dispatcher: We’ll send the police out. Thank you.

Charles Ramsey: There you go!

There have been several missing girls from the Cleveland area during the page decade.  How or if they relate to the current case is currently unknown.  List of other children missing from Cleveland, Ohio:

Ashley Summers (15):  Missing Since 11/5/07, Cleveland, Ohio.

Norma Rodriguez (17):  Missing Since 11/4/07, Westlake, Ohio.

Ashley Nicole Summers (15):  Missing Since 7/9/07, from Cleveland, Ohio.

Jennifer G. Decaprio (15):  Missing Since 12/18/06, Berea, Ohio.

Christina Adkins (now 32):  Missing Since 1/10/95, Cleveland, Ohio.

Police had long thought the Ashley Summers disappearance was related to the Amanda Berry disappearance.

Article penned by Ariel Castro’s son regarding Gina DeJesus

Article penned by Ariel Castro’s son, Anthony, about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus.  The article was published in the Plain Press in 2004.

Gina DeJesus’ disappearance has changed her neighborhood – by Ariel Castro

(Plain Press, June 2004) Since April 2, 2004 , the day 14-year-old Gina DeJesus was last seen on her way home from Wilbur Wright Middle School , neighborhood residents have been taken by an overwhelming need for caution. Parents are more strictly enforcing curfews, encouraging their children to walk in groups, or driving them to and from school when they had previously walked alone.

“You can tell the difference,” DeJesus’ mother, Nancy Ruiz said. “People are watching out for each other’s kids. It’s a shame that a tragedy had to happen for me to really know my neighbors. Bless their hearts, they’ve been great.”

On Cleveland ’s west side, it is difficult to go any length of time without seeing Gina’s picture on telephone poles, in windows, or on cars along the busy streets.

“People are really looking out for my daughter,” Ruiz said.

For seven weeks, Gina’s family has been organizing searches, holding prayer vigils, posting fliers and calling press conferences. Despite the many tips and rumors that have been circulating in the neighborhood, there has been no sign of her.

One thing is for certain, however. Almost everyone feels a connection with the family, and Gina’s disappearance has the whole area talking.

“It’s traumatized a lot of people,” Bob Zak, Safety Coordinator of the Westown Community Development Corporation, said. “People are suspicious of everyone. Kids, parents, and grandparents are afraid.”

The organization serves Cleveland ’s Ward 19, which stretches from West Boulevard to West 134th Street .

Parents and relatives waiting for their children as school let out at Wilbur Wright recently expressed concern about the number of sex offenders living and working in the area.

“I really believe there needs to be more security,” Vaneetha Smith said as she waited for her niece outside Wilbur Wright Middle School at the end of the day. “We have too many kidnappings, and they should crack down on all the sex offenders in the area.”

Luis Perez echoed Smith’s concerns as he waited for his niece at the school.

“I think the neighborhood is pretty bad,” he said. “You have to be aware of some people out there.”

The Ohio Electronic Sex Offender Registration and Notification (eSORN) database lists 133 sex offenders living or working in Gina’s immediate zip code. Many residents of the area, however, cannot use the database, as they do not have access to the Internet at home.

“I have been here almost four years and I have been notified of only one sex offender,” Ruiz said. “And he lives only about 1,000 feet away from here.”

Ohio law prohibits sex offenders who are required to register from establishing their residence within 1,000 feet of school buildings.

“There is no enforcing the laws because they still live right next to the schools and the bus stops,” Ruiz said. She believes the process of registering sex offenders is essentially a waste of time.

At a Ward 19 crime watch meeting, one of ten monthly, residents describe the area as a multi-ethnic community where people work and try to keep their housing up to par. They feel the disappearance of Amanda Berry on April 21, 2003 was a wake-up call, but Gina’s case really caught everyone’s attention.

Many residents believe the schools and the city have more work to do to help out.

“There is not enough supervision at the schools and when the kids get out, they still run through the streets,” Smith said. “They say that once they leave the school premises, the school is not responsible for them. But until they reach their house, I believe they are. They should be more concerned with their safety.”

“The school is supposed to be a safe place,” Perez said. “They need more police around the schools, surrounding the area. Without that, it’s just going to keep on going and there will be more innocent people getting hurt.”

Isaac Rodriguez has seen some changes happen at Wilbur Wright.

“There are more security guards at the school now,” the father of two middle school students said. “They have been having assemblies and talking to the kids about the danger.”

“When you send your kids out to school now”, Smith said, “you don’t know if they are going to make it home or not. From West 105th to [West 110th], anything could happen. I feel the mayor should do something about that. The children should be our first priority, no matter what else is going on in the city.”

Zak, a former Cleveland police officer of 30 years, believes the community is feeling the effects of the city’s cuts in the police force.

“The first thing a city should do is protect its citizens,” he said. Although police cannot be on the scene of every crime as they occur, Zak reports that residents are getting responses to calls “one, two, and four hours later.”

Cuts in the police force are not the only budget changes that are directly affecting residents. The Cleveland Municipal School District is also mulling how it will eliminate its projected $100 million budget deficit. Among the items cut will be purchased services, employee overtime, supplemental pay, textbooks, school staff and student transportation.

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